HELEN E. “NORDIE” NORDQUIST was born to Swedish immigrants in Boston, Massachusetts, March 23, 1932, and she lived in nearby Malden most of her life. As a result she’s a life-long Red Sox Fan. Nordie grew up playing baseball and tag football with the neighborhood boys and was the first girl in her junior high school to earn a school letter for sports. In high school, she co-captained the softball team as a junior and senior.
Nordie signed as an outfielder for the Kenosha Comets of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) in 1951 and played for the AAGPBL’s Rockford Peaches (1952–53), and South Bend Blue Sox (1954). After the AAGPBL folded, Nordie played amateur softball in the New England states and took up bowling. She worked as a switchboard operator, an accountant, and retired as a toll collector on Interstate 95 for the State of New Hampshire. # 1
By Kathi Caldwell-Harper
"HELEN NORDQUIST: A LEAGUE OF HER OWN"
“At softball practice for a local league a few years ago, I asked the coach if I could see if I still had the ole eye and snap of the wrist. I did—I could still hit and field the ball.” --HELEN NORDQUIST, FORMER ALL-AMERICAN PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL PLAYER.
If it is true that athletes, like artists, are born with talent, then Helen Nordquist of New Durham, New Hampshire came into the world with the ability to play baseball.
Helen’s talent was such that in the 1950s she played for the All-American [Girls] Professional Baseball League. The League’s female players traveled throughout the midwestern United States and were as talented as any male major league player.
Today, few residents of New Durham know that their neighbor was once featured on baseball score cards and newspaper sports pages. Because Helen is modest, she has told few people that the popular movie “A League of Their Own” was about Helen’s team, the Rockford (Illinois) Peaches. Indeed, Helen and her old teammates were invited to “try out” as extras in the movie. Helen smiles as she recalls the invitation, which stated to bring your “spikes” (baseball shoes) and glove, no matter how old they were.
“I didn’t go,” Helen says. “I knew my legs wouldn’t get me to first base fast enough! But it was an honor!”
A native of Malden, Massachusetts, Helen says she was always a tomboy and loved sports. At the age of 14 she won the first “all around” sports award ever presented at her junior high school in Malden. As a senior she won a gold cup and was named the “best girl athlete.”
After graduating from high school, Helen read a notice in a Boston paper announcing tryouts for the All-American Professional Baseball League. The League was started by the Wrigley’s Chewing Gum Company during World War II.* Any young woman with ball-playing ability could travel to Virginia to try out.
Helen recalls that the tryouts were competitive. This was real baseball. The women played hardball—overhand pitching with the same rules as regulation baseball.
Although these women were in a different league from her Malden Collegiate teammates, Helen made the tryouts, and she was assigned to play with the Kenosha (Wisconsin) Comets.
The All-American teams played from May to September. The female players were always chaperoned, never allowed to wear slacks and expected to attend Sunday church services. They traveled to their games by bus and stayed at the best hotels. Helen recalls that her weekly pay as a player was very good for that time period.
“I was very young, one of the youngest on the team,” Helen says. “I was in awe of being on the team and didn’t mind when my teammates teased me about being a rookie. I loved the traveling, but I did get lonely sometimes. I remember when we played at a town in Iowa. It reminded me of Massachusetts towns and I got really homesick.”
After a year with the Comets, Helen played for the Rockford Peaches of Rockford, Illinois. She stayed with the Peaches for two years, playing center or right field. She also played for a year as a pitcher for the South Bend Blue Sox.
Anyone who remembers the 1950s knows those were days when little boys idolized ball players and entire families made a Sunday outing of going to a game. Helen recalls that the fans were die-hards, and that they brought presents to their favorite players, adding to the glamour of the game for Helen.
The teams disbanded in the mid-1950s due to the advent of television and lack of ticket sales for the games. Helen returned home to Massachusetts and adjusted to the changes by continuing her involvement in sports on a local level.
New Hampshire was always a second home for Helen and she recalls her childhood days, “My uncle had a farm in Alton and I helped him mow and harvest hay. This was before baling machines were used, and it was hard work. We harvested the hay with horse drawn equipment. Every Sunday, we sold vegetables, milk and cream.”
The former ball player moved to New Hampshire permanently in 1983 where she has played on amateur league teams.
While rural New Hampshire is a long way from the cheering crowds and the spotlight of her professional baseball days, it seems sure that if Helen picked up a ball and bat today, the magic and talent would be there.
That athletic talent has always put Helen in a league of her own.
*The league was actually started by Philip Wrigley through his Chicago Cubs organization.
Contributed by: Helen Nordquist
Submitted on: 01/29/2018
Copyright: New Hampshire Editions, June 1994, p. 51
HELEN EMELIA “NORDIE” NORDQUIST
3/23/1932 – 7/11/2023
After 91 years of living a full life on earth, Helen “Nordie” Nordquist has passed to the next life. Born in Malden, MA, to Otto and Ebone (Spongberg) Nordquist, Helen grew up into a strong Swedish heritage of self-sufficiency and determination.
Best known in her life for her athletic prowess, Helen first displayed this formally at Beebe Junior High School where, at age 14, she was the first female ever to receive a “certificate of excellence” and a school letter “B” for athletics. (Her second school letter earned there was for her 3 years of perfect attendance!) The next three years at Malden High School found Helen excelling in all 3 girls' sports (field hockey, basketball, and softball), even as a sophomore being chosen over a senior to play shortstop. And as a junior, now called by the nickname “Nordie” as coined by Coach Virginia Gardner, Nordie was chosen co-captain of the softball team. Nordie co-captained all three sports when a senior. Her senior year of 1950 culminated in her election by her coaches as “Best Girl Athlete”, an honor for which she received a gold loving cup. (And anyone who knew Nordie understands why she was runner-up in the “class clown” category.) A plethora of MHS “M”s decorated her bedroom wall(s) from 1950 to 2023.
Shortly after graduating, Nordie saw an article in a Boston newspaper announcing try-outs in Virginia for a mid-western girls' baseball league, the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). She and her mother boarded a Greyhound bus and headed south. After several days of hitting and fielding, Nordie was chosen by coach Johnny Gottselig to join the Kenosha (Wisconsin) Comets. Reflective of her talents in her hometown sports, Nordie completed her rookie season of 1951 playing in a career high 82 games and “leading the league in assists” from the outfield...at 19 years of age. Her professional career continued in 1952 playing for the Rockford (Illinois) Peaches, made famous in Penny Marshall's “A League of Their Own”. Nordie also elected to play in a winter league (the International Girls Baseball League) in 1952, later in life providing extensive details of her computer research for the history of that league. It was for this research that in 2014 she was recognized by the AAGPBL with the Peppas Award for her service to the league. After two seasons with the Peaches, which made the playoffs in 1952 & 1953, Nordie played in 1954 for the South Bend (Indiana) Blue Sox as pitcher as well as outfielder. The league ended when male baseball players returned to the baseball fields after the wars...and also because of the advent of television, allowing fans to watch baseball from home.
Nordie's return to Malden saw her employment as a switchboard operator, later a billing supervisor, and later a cost accounting clerk at several large companies in the area, also playing or coaching their sports teams, including bowling, at which she also excelled. Lest we think that only work and sports kept Nordie occupied, her many hobbies and talents included: creating (and electrifying) table lamps out of baseball bats, bowling pins, field hockey sticks, her own hand carvings of duck decoys; building birdhouses and feeders; adding a family room to her grandfather's house, doing the brickwork on the hearth, the ductwork for heat, woodwork carvings for the décor...not to forget to mention her automobile motor and electrical prowess...or her sewing talent which led to her creation of a fly-ftont skirt for easier changing while on long, hot AAGPBL busrides.
Several years later, in 1959, a women's softball team of the then recently formed Tri-State Softball League found a home in Malden. Now at 27, Nordie tried out and joined the “'Malden Collegiates” team which played its home games at Malden's Roosevelt Field. Nordie's hitting and fielding (including, while at shortstop, engineering a triple play) contributed to the team's Metropolitan Boston Championship at the end of the season. (Nordie's sewing talent showed itself again when she created for her 2 year old nephew Ronnie a “team mascot” uniform, an exact replica, in miniature, of the team uniform.)
Nordie relocated to New Hampshire in 1983, where later she was employed by the state until retiring in 1994. But baseball still remained an important part of her life.
In 1982 the AAGPBL had begun annual reunions of the former players, reawakening in the aging players that important part of their youth.
And the following years brought more attention to the league beyond just the players:
In 1988, the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, recognized the AAGPBL in a display called “Diamond Dreams”, showing memorabilia and posting a list of all the players in the league from its inception in 1943 through its final year of 1954.
In 1992, after seeing a documentary about the AAGPBL, Penny Marshall introduced to the movie-going public the very existence of the league and the exceptional talent of the women who played.
This attention caused cities in MA and in NH to invite Nordie to throw out the first pitch for their semi-pro team: the Brockton (MA) Rox, and for the youth team: the Rochester (NH) Girls Softball opening ceremony.
And because of this now widespread publicity many of the players were recognized so many years later by their hometowns. This includes Helen “Nordie” Nordquist who, in 2019 was inducted into Malden's school sports club, the Golden Tornado Club's Hall of Fame. And a further honor that the city of Malden announced in May is the naming of a baseball field at the renovated and renamed Roosevelt Park as the “Helen 'Nordie' Nordquist Field”, the dedication date of which will be announced.
It was Nordie's wish that all her memorabilia from her Malden years be donated to the Malden Historical Society and that her extensive collections of AAGPBL and IGBL materials be donated to the Bridgewater (MA) State University's The Kathleen Bertrand and Linda Lundin “Honoring Women in Sports” Collection.
Predeceased by her siblings Roy and his wife Helen (Nickerson) and their daughter Carol; Ebone (Burle) Bond; and Jon, Nordie leaves behind her beloved nephews, formerly of Malden: Ron Nordquist and wife Ruth, John and Janice Nordquist and family, who currently reside in Canada; and many dear friends.
Interment will be at Forestdale Cemetery in Malden alongside her parents and niece, with a remembrance of her life to be held at a later date.
More extensive information about the life of Helen “Nordie” Nordquist can be found on the league website (www.aagpbl.org), under her name. Also found there is information for donations in Nordie's memory which may be made to the AAGPBL, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the history of the league and to supporting women and girls to play baseball. To send a donation by check, made out to “AAGPBL Players Assoc.”, mail to the association treasurer: George Chapman, 1320 Bluff Drive, Howell, MI 48843
Author: Linda Glover
Contributed By: Linda Glover
Copyright: Linda Glover